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What Kinds of Sports, Games and Related Activities Are Appropriate and Inappropriate for Christians? (Part 1)

In the first installment of this series, we will address the Church’s position on violence and self-defense, as the answer is critical for the understanding as to what kinds of sports a true Christian may or should not participate in. What is the Church’s position on “violent” sports such as football, soccer, boxing, paintball and laser tag, as well as shooting with a gun or with an arrow? What is the Church’s position on “defensive” sports such as karate and jiu-jitsu; and how would the Church look at “war games” such as chess? Should our motivation be considered when watching or participating in certain sports and other related activities?

In a Q&A, titled, “Do You Believe in and Teach Self-Defense?,” we set forth the following, while quoting to a large extent from our free booklet, “Should You Fight in War?”:

“Do we believe in God and rely on Him for our protection, having the faith that it is GOD who is our protecting shield, or do we think that we must have additional security in the form of a handgun or some sort of firearm? Do we think that God is incapable of helping us in certain circumstances? We should, of course, do everything that we can do to avoid getting into dangerous situations. We obviously should not go to places where gangs assemble, and we should not get involved with people who are known to be active in crimes…

“We are also told in Proverbs 26:17 that he who passes by and meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one who takes a dog by the ears…

“The most important of all the things you can do to avoid using violence is to pray to God, on a daily basis: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ (compare Matthew 6:13)… God… will also provide a way of escape for you. This is sometimes literally the case. Sometimes you need to actually flee, to run away! Christ did so on occasion. We read in John 10:39: ‘Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.’… When we find ourselves, or others, in a dangerous, challenging, life-threatening situation, we must PRAY to God, with faith, to HELP us out of that situation. To fight our fight for us! To give us the wisdom and the power NOT to do the WRONG thing, however tempting it may be.

“We must realize that no matter what harm we may WANT to do physically in a given situation, we must not seriously injure or kill the attacker… If we carry a gun with us or have one handy, say, next to our bed, we will certainly try to use it, but then may be killed in the process… In any case, to use a gun and shoot the attacker would be against the clear Biblical teaching of prohibiting killing. But what about just trying to injure him? In the heat of the moment, you may not be able to do just that, even if you wanted to. And if the attacker would only be injured, he would still have the chance to kill you or others who are with you. Christ told Peter, when he pulled his sword in defense of Christ and just injured the servant, to put his sword away. Christ’s protection did not depend on human weapons. It depended on God the Father and His angels. So, too, with us. Our real protection comes from the same source….

“The whole issue really comes down to where we place our trust and confidence for our protection, in EVERY situation… we must firmly keep in mind God’s limitless power and His willingness to help His disciples, who place their trust and confidence in Him… To resort to violence with the intent to seriously injure or kill another person, even for the purpose of self-defense or defending others, is not in conformity with Christ’s teaching… God has assigned angels for our protection…”

We will discuss in the next installment how these comments would not only apply to a hand gun or a firearm, but also to potentially “violent sports” and “activities,” involving self-defense with the potential of seriously harming another person.

Let us consider further questions regarding the issue of violence.

We read in James 5:6: “You [the rich] have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.” The new Luther Bible translates: “He does not defend himself.” (In German: “… er wehrt sich nicht.”)

This brings to mind the famous passages in Matthew 5:38-41 and in Luke 6:27-30, where Christ says that we must not resist an evil person; pointing out that when we are being hit, we are to turn the other cheek; when someone tries to take our cloak, we ought to leave him our tunic, and vice versa; and when someone compels us to go one mile, we must go with him two miles–the famous extra mile. Does all of this mean that we have to passively give in to violent conduct and that we can do nothing in our defense?

We answer these questions in part 6 (pages 49-56) of our free booklet, “Old Testament Laws—Still Valid Today?:

“Jesus… addressed the principle of ‘an eye for an eye.’ He stated, in Matthew 5:38-39:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist [forcefully, by resorting to violence and thereby injuring or killing] an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” According to the Lamsa Bible, the concept of ‘turning the other cheek’ is another Aramaic idiom, meaning, ‘Do not start a quarrel or a fight.’

“… In order to prevent personal vengeance, as well as an unwillingness to forgive, to reconcile, and to live peaceably with all men, Christ continued to encourage His followers, in Matthew 5:40, to settle a claim with their adversaries out of court, without insisting on their ‘rights.’

“Paul cautioned us in the same way in 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, especially when lawsuits before worldly courts involve spiritual brethren. He said, in verse 7: ‘… it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?’

“Finally, in Matthew 5:41, when encouraging His followers to go the ‘extra mile,’ Jesus referred to the Roman practice that ‘obliged the people not only to furnish horses and carriages [for government dispatches], but to give personal attendance, often at great inconvenience, when required. But the thing here demanded is a readiness to submit to unreasonable demands of whatever kind, rather than raise quarrels, with all the evils resulting from them’ (Jamiesson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible).

“In conclusion, the Old Testament ‘lex talionis’ of an eye for an eye principle was never meant to be applied literally by actually maiming an offender. It was meant to outlaw personal vindictive ‘self-help’ and to allow, instead, a magistrate or a judge to consider the case and render righteous judgment by ordering the offender to pay just compensation to the victim. Jesus Christ addressed a wrong understanding of His listeners who thought they could avenge themselves. He cautioned all of us to be forgiving and kind, and He encouraged us to avoid fights and especially violence, even, if need be, at the price of foregoing our legal rights.”

As we can see, Christ did not mean to imply that we are to be helpless and passive victims and bystanders when confronted with violence. Rather, He told us not to treat violence with violence and revenge, including in our dealing with (unrighteous) acts of the government or in the context of improper conduct in legal settings.

Generally to the concept of violent conduct, we would like to quote from an Editorial by Norbert Link, titled, “Violence No More?,” where the following was stated:

Our fascination with guns and violence will not contribute to the end of the misuse of guns and violent conduct—it will not create a better world. What is needed is a change of heart—how we think, and for what we stand. In the famous millennial passage of Isaiah 2:2-4, we read about a new world which will be so much different from what we are confronted with today. Satan will have no more influence over unsuspecting and gullible people. Instead, God’s law will be taught (verse 3). The consequence will be unparalleled in human history and truly earth-shaking: ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.’

“Their mind will be receptive to God’s way of life. God’s law will be in their heart (Isaiah 51:7). They will walk in God’s statutes and do them (Ezekiel 11:19-20). They will learn to live peaceably with their neighbor and with other nations. They will finally realize that committing violence against our fellow man will only bring destruction… When God’s law of love rules in our heart—and love does no harm to our neighbor (Romans 13:10)—then we would not even think of using a gun or a knife against someone. We would not even think of resorting to violence against another human being.”

But since most, if not all, sports have the potential of harming another person (quite physically or at least emotionally), and since cheering for one’s team or athlete might be viewed as wanting to harm the opposing team or athlete, should a Christian therefore totally abstain from watching or participating in competitive sports?

Another Editorial from Norbert Link, titled, “Enjoy Sports–The Right Way,” pointed out:

“Sadly, all sports have terribly deteriorated, and soccer is by no means an exception. Although originally designed as a ‘no-touch’ game, which did not permit a player to as much as intentionally ‘touch’ another player (except for using one’s shoulder to touch the opponent’s shoulder), we see more and more ‘professional fouls,’ and we are used to referees issuing warnings and giving out yellow cards and even red cards (signifying expulsion from the game).

“Therefore, some have concluded that God does not approve of any competitive sports. But this conclusion is not necessarily correct.

“In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Paul draws a spiritual analogy to competition in sports. This passage does not seem to allow for the conclusion that such competition is necessarily wrong. Paul says: ‘Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty…’ David draws another analogy in the book of Psalms, comparing the sun with ‘a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race’ (Psalm 19:5)…

“But God does not want us to have an attitude of harming or injuring an opponent, or of wishing that he be injured so that ‘our’ team will get an advantage. When ‘competition’ reaches that destructive level, it is wrong. But to want ‘our’ team to win in a game is not wrong. And ‘our’ team had better make every right effort to win, so that it is deserving of ‘our’ support (Ecclesiastes 9:10). But once a game is finished, we are to go on with life and our responsibilities. I remember Mr. Armstrong commenting once that he was enjoying watching a basketball game with the L.A. Lakers, but once the game was over, he would return to his duties. Some get so involved in the support of their team that they get all upset and can’t sleep at night if their team has lost. They might even get drunk to ‘forget their pain.’ That, of course, is not indicative of a healthy and Christian attitude.

“Sports can be good entertainment. They can contribute to our health and relaxation. They can be exciting. But they must never take first place in our lives… And even though watching sporting events can be good and clean fun, that should be all. In this world, ‘the race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong… Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all’ (Ecclesiastes 9:11). So, let’s enjoy sporting matches in a right way, while never getting our priorities mixed up.”

In the next installment, we will continue to show how concepts of violence and revenge apply to sports and other related activities, and what kinds of sports a Christian should view with disfavor.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link